I’m so uplifted on a daily basis by our online design community where we have interior designers, artists, product designers, fabric designers, and a slew of others putting their work out there and taking huge risks that ultimately lead to some major success stories. One such creative force is Tanya Whelan, a popular fabric and sewing pattern designer based in Norfolk, Virginia. The second you visit her blog and website you immediately know her aesthetic – cottage romance, florals, stripes and dots that are undeniably feminine and oh-so-Southern. Intrigued by the whole idea of producing a fabric collection, I decided to interview Tanya to see what jewels of wisdom she can share with decor8 readers. If you have any questions to add to this interview, please fire away in the comments section below this post. :)
decor8: Tanya can you start by telling us about what a normal workday is like for you?
TW: Everyday is really different though they all start with waking my children up at least 3 times before they actually get out of bed and then taking them to school. Today I’ll be sewing up samples and writing an article for an upcoming magazine project. I’m a slowpoke at both things so that will be a big chunk of the day. I also have to think up some ideas on ways to feature my fabric for another coming article. Next, I’ll fill orders for patterns and get them shipped out and bug the printer to please hurry up with the next batch of patterns. Then I’ll spend some time planning my booth for the Spring Quilt Market trade show where my next line, Ava Rose, will be released. In between will be emails back and forth to my company, other bloggers, magazine editors (on a good day) and various business stuff.
decor8: You mentioned everyday is different, so what about a week from now. What do you see yourself working on then?
TW: Next week, when I receive my first set of strike-offs (the first version of the fabric that comes back from the mill) for my next fabric collection, will be very different. All day will be spent making changes to colors and more or less obsessing on minute details. I get very crazy during the strike-off period and can go from completely elated about how I think the fabric is going to turn out to seriously worried and depressed about it. I’m a total drag to be around during this time which my husband can attest to.
decor8: How did you become a fabric and sewing pattern designer?
TW: I sort of fell into fabric design by way of other creative businesses I’ve had over the years. I’ve always sewn so making sewing patterns felt like a natural next step.
decor8: Who do you design for?
TW: I design fabric for Free Spirit/Westminster fibers. But really I design it for women (or men for that matter) like me who want to use fabric for quilting, accessories, clothing and home decoration but who don’t want to pay $30.00 a yard or more for a piece of cotton.
decor8: How did you make that contact over at Free Spirit?
TW: I was encouraged by someone in the industry to present my ideas to Free Spirit. I called them and was able to get an appointment with the head of the company at that time. I made a very nervous, stammering, somewhat sweaty presentation to her that, to my amazement, started my relationship with Free Spirit.
decor8: If someone is interested in designing fabric, how would you suggest they get started?
TW: I would say to do some research and figure out which companies you’d most like to work with and then contact them about what they’re submission guidelines are.
decor8: Let’s talk about blogging for a moment, why did you start blogging?
TW: I started my blog after being inspired by so many beautiful blogs like decor8 and those of my fellow Free Spirit designers. I wasn’t at all sure how to approach it at first, I just thought who the heck wants to hear from me as I’m pretty boring and writing doesn’t come at all naturally to me. But it started to feel really natural and good when I thought about it in terms of what I could offer people and started including free patterns and tutorials on the blog.
decor8: Do you feel blogging helps your business?
TW: I definitely feel blogging helps my business. I have no idea whether it translates directly into fabric sales but what it does do is give me way to show my point of view and to hopefully give people and store owners ideas about how to use the fabric.
decor8: How do you maintain your balance between blogging, work, and raising a family?
TW: Oh, sometimes I really don’t balance everything well and become too obsessed with work. But this doesn’t make me happy in the long run so I really try to keep focused on the most important part of my life which is my family. My kids will only be kids for a short time so to make sure I can fully enjoy this time with them and be the mother and wife I want to be I try to keep everything else in my life very simple. Laundry and housekeeping are done only on an as needed basis. I recently threw out all my throw pillows when my 3rd child came along cause picking them up off the floor a million times a day didn’t seem to make much sense. I’m very much at peace with the idea that I can’t do everything well which also helps me feel balanced.
decor8: Tell us about your workspace – is it at home or someplace else?
TW: I work from my home office and go back and forth through out the day to my upstairs studio, an old sleeping porch with the best light where I take pictures and make color choices. I don’t have much trouble with distractions because my children are at school and I usually love what I’m doing. Also, it helps that a sink full of dirty dishes doesn’t distract me in the slightest.
decor8: Any advice for others who want to work from home but have never done it before – what keeps you focused and on track?
TW: I guess the advice I’d give to women especially working at home is to not feel guilty like you should be cleaning or doing other home related stuff just because you work at home. If your work is important to you then treat it that way and give yourself permission to make it the priority during the time you designate for work.
decor8: Where do you find your inspiration for design?
TW: Design inspiration for me always comes from a love of simplicity and light which is why I so appreciate Scandinavian design. Historic architecture, vintage objects and interiors, movies and my memories of the buildings, apartments and museums I saw growing up in Manhattan have all shaped my aesthetic.
decor8: What kind of software do you use and did you receive formal training?
TW: I use Photoshop and taught myself through a long and painful process. I should have listened to my mother and taken a class.
decor8: What was the best advice anyone ever gave you and do you mind passing it along to us?
TW: I can’t remember getting any specific advice like that but what I did get was encouragement in small ways from people I respected that I took seriously. The advice I would give anyone starting their own business as a designer or something related is to not take rejection personally and to not let it hold you back. If you have an idea or product or design that you feel strongly fills a niche in the marketplace and that you just really believe in then there’s a good chance someone else will too even if the five people before them said no thanks.
decor8: Describe how you feel about your work…
TW: I feel really good about my work because it encompasses so many of the things I love to do. I was pretty bad at most other jobs I’ve ever had whereas what I’m doing now just feels natural for me.
decor8: Where are your fabrics and sewing patterns sold?
TW: My fabrics and patterns are sold in retail fabric stores across the US and internationally and online through lots of great retailers.
decor8: What websites do you use to network online and which have been the most helpful and why?
TW: I don’t have a specific website that I use for networking but just being part of the blogging community of crafters and sewers has been really helpful in that regard though it’s too much fun to really feel like networking.
decor8: And finally Tanya, if you weren’t a designer you would be a…..
TW: If I weren’t a fabric designer I’d be a geek who obsesses about architecture, old furniture, objects and photography. Oh wait, I’m already that geek so I guess I’d like to be an interior stylist if I weren’t a fabric designer.
It was so nice to meet you Tanya, thank you for dropping by to show us your work and share a little about your life as a fabric and sewing pattern designer. We’re inspired!
(images from tanya whelan, most taken in her home studio)